New shelter for Muslim women set to open in Montreal

    Sakeenah Homes offer a safe shelter to Muslim women, catering to their specific needs. Photo: Sakeenah Homes.

    A new transitional women’s shelter is set to open in Montreal this coming June, specifically catering to the needs of Muslim women in need of safe shelter.

    The group behind the shelter is the Toronto-based charity Sakeenah Homes, which wants to create a space that is inclusive towards Muslim women going through traumatic experiences such as domestic abuse. 

    The organization is a sheltering project and social service organization that already has 5 transitional homes across Ontario. “What we seek to do is provide shelter, counselling and casework for Muslim women and children across Canada,” said Zena Chaudhry, chief executive officer at Sakeenah Homes.

    Glaring need

    The organization has since decided to open its first shelter inside Quebec due to what they see as a growing need for such a space. 

    “We saw a huge lack and gap in services for Muslim women and children,” said Chaudhry 

    Adding that “that domestic violence, unfortunately, does not discriminate between religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status.”

    This has led many Muslim women towards mainstream shelters where their needs are not met or where they may face discrimination and Islamophobia said, Chaudhry.

    “They were not able to pray, they had their headscarves ripped off their heads, they didn’t have access to Halal food, the languages that they spoke were not being spoken,” underlined Chaudhry.

    “There’s a number of things that were happening that made them feel unsafe in the shelter,” she said, adding that this led many to be retraumatized through their experience.

    “So it’s not about excluding anyone, it’s actually about including even more people into the services that we can provide,”

    Inclusive approach

    Although the project especially caters to meeting the needs of Muslim women, Chaudhry was clear that the initiative was inclusive and would help anyone who needed it. 

    “Obviously, our services are geared towards them. Inside our homes we have only halal food and drink permitted, no non-halal food or alcohol or drugs or anything is permitted inside the home,” said Chaudhry. 

    Nonetheless, they also work remotely with non-Muslim women who need help by providing counselling and casework.

    “So it’s not about excluding anyone, it’s actually about including even more people into the services that we can provide,” she added. 

    “We can provide emergency shelter with hotels and motel programs, we can provide food cards, grocery cards, we can provide free mental health counselling,” she said, adding that they would provide “whatever is needed to help these people without turning them away.”

    Zena Chaudhry is the CEO and founder of the organization. Photo: Zena Chaudhry.

    Privately funded

    Operated through private contributions from family and individual donors with no government funding or subsidies, Sakeenah Homes aims to work with the community and religious leaders to ensure they cater to what these women need. 

    “We’re a project for the community by the community,” underscored Chaudhry, adding that she wants to make sure that they’re meeting the needs of the specific community in which they are operating. 

    Sakeenah Homes hope that both the Muslim and non-Muslim community at large makes the project possible by donating. 

    Like a home

    The new shelter will be located just north of Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport and will be able to accommodate between 8 to 10 women, including up to 2 babies.

    Most women get access to their own private rooms and share an open common space, as well as washrooms and a kitchen. While some may have to share a room, women with children will always get a private apartment to themselves. 

    Those who may require Sakeenah Homes services can contact them by telephone. Others who may want to contribute to the project can donate lightly used goods as well as non-perishable foods.  

    Hope for a decrease in demands

    But even with the opening of this new space, Chaudhry hopes that one day she won’t have to keep expanding.

    “Our goal is not to open homes for the rest of our lives,” she said, underscoring that she hoped that the organization’s work could one day warrant the closing of its shelters if they were no longer needed.

    “That’s the dream. That’s the vision, to see the need decrease,” concurred Chaudhry, “my goal in life is to put myself out of a job.”